Special Olympics is an organisation that provides year-round sports training and competitions for athletes with intellectual disabilities. In 2008, the year that Special Olympics celebrated its 40th anniversary, the organisation worked with three million athletes in more than 180 different countries.
The Special Olympics World Games are officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee, and are held every two years. The Games alternate between summer and winter versions, with the next Summer Games set to take place in Athens later this year. In September 2010, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter joined 20,000 fans at Legia Warsaw’s stadium to attend the opening ceremony of the 2010 Special Olympics European Games, which were hosted by Poland that year.
The friendly match at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters coincided with European Football Week, an annual event in which 50 European National Special Olympics Programmes organise football-based activities for around 50,000 children and adults. The activities allow athletes – both male and female – to display their skills and determination on the pitch.
After visiting FIFA’s headquarters, the Wadenswill delegation took part in a friendly match alongside former Swiss football stars Kubilay Turkyilmaz, Andy Egli, George Bregy, Petar Alexandrov, Raimondo Ponte, Claude Andrey, Reudi Elsener, Heinz Hermann and Jean-Paul Brigger. A number of FIFA employees also took to the pitch.
Bruno Barth, director of Special Olympics Switzerland, said: “The goal of this European week is to promote the Special Olympics movement. FIFA are our neighbours, so it made sense to organise something together. I can assure you that this is a very special moment for the residents of Wadenswil.”
FIFA actively supports Special Olympics through its Football for Hope initiative, and 10 of the movement’s programmes in Africa use football as a tool to help integrate people with intellectual disabilities. One Football for Hope centre in the Namibian township of Katutura, Windhoek, (part of the 20 Centres for 2010 campaign) is specially devoted to the work of Special Olympics.
“Through this kind of coming together, we hope to integrate these exceptional people into our society and recognise their talents,” Barth added. “Eventually, we want them to be able to integrate into existing football clubs, so that there are no such things as ‘special’ clubs and ‘normal’ clubs.”
Judging by the sea of smiling faces at FIFA’s headquarters on Monday evening, the approach certainly appears to be working.